Callaway overwhelms Vicksburg in Class 5A championship game
Published 12:44 am Saturday, March 15, 2014
JACKSON — The Vicksburg Gators tried to run. They tried to slow things down. They shot 3-pointers, drove the lane and got to the foul line.
None of the tricks in their arsenal did any good. The Callaway Chargers, the beast of Mississippi basketball, were just too deep, too talented, and too darn good to let the Gators get more than a parting glimpse of the gold basketball that goes to state champions.
Malik Newman, Callaway’s star junior guard, had 25 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots to lead the Chargers to a 49-33 win over division rival Vicksburg in the MHSAA boys Class 5A championship game Friday night.
It was Callaway’s third state championship in a row, fifth in six seasons, and the latest link in an ongoing dynasty.
“When you’ve got that kind of size, and that kind of speed, and then you’ve got Malik Newman, hey. I haven’t seen that good a team since Othella Harrington and Ronnie Henderson,” Vicksburg coach Dellie C. Robinson said, referring to a pair of mid-1990s college stars at Georgetown and LSU, respectively, who led Murrah to great success. “Their guards are as big as our forwards. They’re a tough basketball team, any way you look at it.”
The Gators finished the season with a 19-9 record, with half of the losses coming to Callaway (32-1). They lost two close games to their division rival in the regular season, then were blown out by 25, 19 and 16 points in three playoff games.
“After the first one, I think we only won by seven, then we came home and won by (six). We really broke film down a lot because we figured we were going to meet them somewhere in the Coliseum. The film really helped a lot,” said Newman, who was the only Callaway player to score in double figures.
The last meeting was the only one that truly mattered — the matchups in the Division 4-5A and North State tournaments were for seeding in the next round, not elimination games — and it was also the one that stung the most for the Gators.
Vicksburg hit just one of its first 10 shots from the field, and was a dreadful 8-for-43 (18.6 percent) in the game. Only 2 of 16 3-point attempts found the bottom of the net. It hung around for a while by slowing things down and getting to the free throw line, but even that tactic eventually proved fruitless. Callaway outscored the Gators 17-4 in the third quarter — Newman’s breakaway dunk with 2 ½ minutes to go brought the crowd to its feet — to turn an eight-point halftime lead into a 21-point margin and the fourth quarter into a championship coronation.
In the semifinals Monday against Pascagoula, the Gators dribbled the final minute off the clock to seal the win. Senior guard De’Angelo Richardson did the same thing Friday night, but it was merely a preulde to watching another team celebrate.
“It was watching our faces go down the drain. Watching everything we worked for go down the drain,” Richardson said.
Richardson finished the game with 15 points, but no one else on Vicksburg’s roster had more than five. The Gators’ fate seemed sealed in the first half, when Callaway came out with an aggressive defense that blocked four shots, forced two steals, and held the Gators to a single field goal in the first quarter.
Things got worse in the second quarter when both starting point guard Edward Davis (knee) and his backup K.J. Murphy (ankle) went down with injuries. That not only crippled the Gators’ depth, it severely limited their options in dealing with a supremely talented Callaway squad.
“Anytime we can’t shoot the basketball, we’re going to struggle, and we didn’t shoot the basketball well at all tonight. Then when Red (Davis) goes down, and then K.J. goes down, then we’ve got to go with two guards that really haven’t played all year long,” Robinson said. “We couldn’t get in our offense, we couldn’t get nothing going. Then they pressured De’Lo, (De’Vonta) Brisco started to struggle with his shot, and they blocked some shots inside. They just dominated us, if you want to be truthful.”